From a designer’s point of view, the kitchen is absolutely the focal and most important room of the house. This is the room that everyone wants to see and where everyone wants to hang out. Frankly, this is the judgement point for guests. You are telling your guests right away if you like to cook, how you like to cook and if you are organized in your system of cooking.
To me, the kitchen is like an active workshop – everything should be functional and easily assessable – but also look good all at the same time. Creating a kitchen as a workshop is especially true if you enjoy cooking. There should not be any unnecessary items, so this is where the realist needs to come out. Ask yourself if you really need the item or if you can achieve the same outcome with something else – maybe ask yourself if you really need three juicers. We all know there is a specialty gadget for just about anything these days – how on earth did our great grandparents ever survive in the kitchen! Let’s jump right in!
Try to keep all the major cooking utensils up and out on the counter so that you can quickly and visually see them. When I say major, I’m talking about the items you use for everyday cooking – only. Place the items in individual utensil holders and organize them by their function. If you use wooden spoons a lot like me, keep them all together in their own holder so they are easily visible and accessible from the stove.
Challenge: How many wooden spoons can you possibly use at one time? How many different styles and sizes do you really need? Get rid of the rest and keep the ones you love – and use.
If you are also a baker, keep all your whisks and baking spatulas together and give them a home next to the stand mixer (if you have one). In this holder, you should only need 3-4 rubber mixing spatulas in different sizes and 2-3 whisks in different sizes.
Keep all cooking spatulas together next to the stove or in a drawer of their own. Keep only 2-3 flat spatulas in different sizes and a couple different stirring spoons. These should be all the same brand and color (remember brain stimulation). Skillet utensils that are used often should be replaced at least once a year – using old and ugly utensils never helped anyone. All other utensils that aren’t used often should be organized neatly in a drawer and out of sight. And, you should have a utensil in your collection only if you actually use it. There should only be one of each item (most people only use a potato peeler one at a time, so why would you need more than one?)
Challenge: Take out all of your utensils and lay them out on a large table or counter. Look at them and come to the realization of the ones you really don’t use or the ones you have duplications of and get rid of them. Set yourself free of the utensil strong hold!!
If you enjoy cooking, you understand the importance of quality knives. There are many specialty knives for different uses, but you should only need one of each (okay, maybe a couple chef knives). Knives should be the same brand and of the styles that you use. For me, my go-to brand of knives is J.A. Henckel and I keep a Chef’s Knife (2), Carving Knife, Bread Knife, Paring Knife, and Steak Knives. Speaking of Steak Knives – you should only keep the quantity in the active knife drawer that you need for everyday use. If there are two of you in the household, there is no reason to have more than four active steak knives in the drawer. All the extras for when you host guests, should live someplace else.
My preferred place to store knives is to hang them on the wall with a knife magnet – in order of size. This allows for an easy view of all the knives – preventing the brain from getting over-stimulated when trying to find one. However, it is not always possible to have the knives up on the wall. In this case, try to dedicate a drawer to house your knives. Organize the knives by size and lay them side by side, facing the same way in the drawer (again, this will relax the brain). This will also allow for easy viewing and each knife will have a home. Both methods protect the blades and prevents them from getting scratched or broken. I personally do not like knife blocks because I can’t see the blades and my brain needs to work harder for me to select the knife I need (are you seeing the common theme here??).
Everyone is tempted by all the pretty designs and patterns out there for plates and bowls – so pretty. But, when you buy these pretty designs and down the road want to add a new piece, most likely you will be forced to add a different design or color. This results in a mismatch of designs, colors and styles and makes your brain work harder. I like to keep it simple and buy all white dishes. I know this may sound boring, but this way you can add pieces to your inventory without introducing a new color or design. Having all white dishes helps keep the cupboard looking organized with little effort on your part. Try not to stack different styles or size dishes on top of each other. Having to lift through a stack of dishes to get to the one I need is the same as trying to find that lid to the container for my macaroni and cheese – it’s exhausting. Have a dedicated cupboard for your dishes – this means nothing else should live in that space. By doing this, your cupboard will look organized even though you didn’t work hard.
This is the same for glassware and coffee cups. Your cupboard should house only as many water glasses as you need. If you have four people in your household, you should only need six glasses in your cupboard. The glasses should all be the same style that you love and avoid being tempted to bring home those fun souvenir glasses we all get offered at one time or another. If you want a little spice in your life, maybe get it with your coffee cups. Don’t go crazy, but here you can enjoy a little selection, as long as you only have as many cups as you really need – do you often have 10-12 people having coffee at the same time? Then why is it necessary to have 10-12 coffee cups??? You also need to make sure the cups you do have are ones that you really love to use. We all have our favorite coffee cup that we enjoy using, so why not fill your cupboard with them?
Challenge: Remove all your coffee cups from the cupboard and select the ones you really love and use more than others. Remove the others from your cupboard and free up your mind! If you don’t want to completely get rid of them, maybe store them away with your extra steak knives for when you have extra guests.
This one is simple: Your silverware should live in their own drawer and should be all the same. There is no reason to have mismatched silverware – period.
You know what colors you like, and you know what style of kitchen towels you love to use. You may not realize it, but subconsciously, you pull the same dish towels out of the drawer each time and leave the one or two behind that you don’t love. Find the color and style of dishtowel that you love to use and go buy 6-8 of them – same style, similar colors. This way when you reach in for a dishtowel, your brain doesn’t have to work hard. Resist the urge to buy the funny ones with sayings on them or fun pictures – they don’t work any better. Speaking of working better, be sure to invest in nice, quality towels so that you get longer use out of them. Quality dish towels do make a difference and get used often, so they should be replaced regularly – but remember, replace all of them at the same time.
Challenge: Think about the dishtowels you normally grab first out of your drawer. Figure out why that is and then go out and buy all that style and get rid of the others.
Pots and Pans
Having quality pots and pans is as important as having quality knives. It can be expensive to buy all high-quality pots and pans, so it’s not as easy to buy them all at once. But research and a dedication to a specific brand will help keep your collection streamlined.
If it were a perfect world, I would have all my pots and pans hanging on a wall so that I could visibly see them. This is extremely hard to pull off and only a small percentage of people have that type of space. Some people still use pot racks which also allows for visibility, but I’m not a big fan as they still look disorderly – and they’re not good for vertically challenged people. You should keep an inventory of non-stick, stainless and a few cast iron skillets in various sizes. However, try not to have more than 4-6 skillets and 4-6 sauce pots. Those numbers seem high, but this is an area that you need to ensure you have the right tools (in this case, the right pan) to do the job. Try to have a dedicated cupboard for your skillets and another one for your sauce pots. Keep all your non-stick together and all of your stainless pans together. It would be hard to not stack skillets, but at least you will have them grouped in an organized manner. I keep my cast iron skillets hanging on a wall because they are bullies and I don’t want them beating up on my other skillets.
Spices are one of those pesky items that I have a love-hate relationship with. If you love to cook or bake, you know what I’m talking about. There are the spices that you should keep in your cupboard as staples because you will use them often, but there are also those spices that you’ve never heard of until….. that one recipe. Everyone has been through that scenario. You find a recipe that you want to cook and there is that one spice that you have never heard of, but you’re convinced that if you don’t include it, the recipe will be ruined. So, you hunt down the spice, pay the $5.89 for the small container and add the 1/8 of teaspoon to the recipe as indicated. Then the spice sits in your cupboard for the next two years untouched.
Try to find space to organize your spices so that the labels are clearly and easily visible. This could be a counter-top spice rack, a drawer or door spice rack, or any other system you come up with that works for you. You should avoid just setting them on a shelf in the cupboard. Trying to hunt through all the spices for the one I need is like looking for a lid to the container………. You get the point. Try to find spice racks that fit both small jars (1 oz) and large jars (1.8 oz). Some spices you can easily buy in the large jars (cinnamon, garlic powder, etc.) because you may use them often. But other spices (anis seed, dill, etc.), it’s best to buy in the smaller 1oz jar. I would also recommend having a Rubbermaid container to store the specialty spices that you had to buy once, so that you can stay focused on the ones you use daily. Spices should be replaced once a year. To be really organized, you could buy the jars with labels and just refill with the spices. That is pretty advanced, so before you get that crazy, make sure you understand the consequences. If you do go as far as buying all the same jars and refilling, you should try to locate a local bulk spice shop. That way you can just buy as much of each spice as you need.
To keep your brain calm, try to buy all the same brand of spices that have the same labels.
Challenge: Take inventory of all your spices and only keep the ones you love and use regularly in your spice drawer. Remove the others to a container and store elsewhere for special recipes.
Organizing the food pantry is like organizing your utensils – only keep on hand what you really need and love. Resist buying stuff at the grocery store because it was on sale, but you have no idea when you will get around to using it. This is harder to say than do for all of us, but just try to be mindful. Your food pantry should have a constant rotation of inventory (FIFO). You should not buy items for your pantry just for them to be in there one year later. You should become one with your pantry and know of its contents – or at least have an idea. We all like to have ‘that one item’ in our pantry for ‘that one recipe’. That’s all fine and good, but just make sure you make that recipe. Many times, I will come up with our dinner menu from just looking in our pantry so that I can use up some of the items (it’s amazing what a can of coconut milk can create for dinner). You should try to organize the items by use. For example, I have a shelf in my panty I call “Everything Grains”. This is where I have all my pasta, rice, crackers, bread coatings, etc. Put all pastas, rice and breading into airtight containers with labels. This allows you to see what you have. Does having all the pastas and rice in labeled containers take up more room? Probably. Does it help keep the brain from over-stimulating? Most definitely. Try to use storage steps for your pantry items when you can – this helps utilize the vertical space in a cupboard and allows you to visually see what you have.
If you have a tall and deep pantry cupboard in your kitchen, things can easily get lost and forgot about when they migrate to the back. We’ve all pulled out that unforgotten box of pancake mix that somehow migrated to the way back of the cupboard and has now been occupied by grain gnats. Besides putting all flour items in plastic, airtight containers that are clearly labeled, try placing items in a group on a tray. For instance – for some reason, I find it necessary to have several different bread coatings in my pantry (plain, Italian, etc.). So, I place them all on a tray inside my pantry so that I can pull it out and get a clear look at my breading inventory when the time comes. This also helps keep things organized better – and looks neater.
The Under Sink Area
This is such a scary area. This is where all our chemical cleaning products go to die. This is one of those areas that we need to ask ourselves, “how many cleaning products do I actually need.” The reality is, even though there are many different products out on the market that do specific things – they all really do the same thing. Select the cleaning products that you like to use and use it for everything. There are exceptions of course but try to quit buying 4-5 different products that do the same thing. It also helps to put things in containers and group them on trays under the counter. I keep all of my scouring pads, dishwashing soap pods and extra dish sponges in a plexiglass container that are clearly marked. This prevents the soggy cardboard box situation.
Garbage Bags – Be One with Them
I may be a little different here, but I don’t like changing out garbage bags. Again, I think it is the act of removing the used bag, opening the box of unused garbage bags, unrolling one and getting it into the can. That right there is exhausting to me and makes me want to take a nap.
I’ve come up with a system that doesn’t drive my brain crazy. When I get home with a new box of garbage bags, I pour myself a glass of wine or cup of coffee and sit and neatly fold all of them into little squares. I have a container under my sink where the folded garbage bags live so they are easily accessible. I also keep 6-8 folded bags at the bottom of my garbage can(s) under the current in-use bag. I do this for my kitchen garbage as well as all my bathroom garbage cans. My stress level appreciates it
Anyone out in the universe who thinks the need for junk drawers is not necessary is not living in reality (this coming from the women who folds all of her garbage bags into squares). Junk drawers are really the savior in all our disorganized ways. You just need to welcome them and treat them with respect. A junk drawer is a place for things to go that doesn’t yet have a permanent home, or that doesn’t warrant the need for a permanent home. These drawers do need attention and should be observed/cleaned out every few months. I use separators and bins in my junk drawer to try and help keep it somewhat organized, especially for the small things.
I hope you have been inspired to take a harder look at the things you have in your kitchen. Next week, I will be discussing bathrooms.